Ivory Tower Myopia


There are not just a few academics and journalists out there studying us.

Well, by ‘us’ I mean those of us who endeavour to live off the grid.  Seems we are considered numerous and peculiar enough these days to study and analyze.  Not like your basic lab rats, so much, but more like something a bit more unusual, like lemmings, perhaps, or Kangaroo rats.  We ‘bunch up’ some (enough to be considered social animals) but are still individual enough to warrant being different from the larger species.  We off-the-gridders are clearly a sub-species of homo sapiens to the academics and they are trying to understand us.

I like it.  Mostly.  It is fun.  Firstly, I like getting the attention without actually being one of the studied rats.  You have to understand: off-the-gridders want their privacy but everyone likes attention.  I do, anyway.  So how do we reconcile that?  Get a professor at a university to study other off-the-gridders and then bask in the feedback and limelight by association. 

Kinda sick, I confess, but fun. 

Professor Phillip Vanini of Royal Roads University in Victoria is, it seems, a recognized observer: (the following is a series of excerpts from an article in the Calgary Herald by Jamie Kormanicki in interview with Professor Vanini)

“Life’s not so scary off the grid. It’s not just the domain of hippies or hermits, or even self-important hipsters. Rather, those with “mindfulness” about their own community and their role within it — plus a working knowledge of a watt, volt and amp — have the chops to unplug from electricity or heat or even the Internet.”

“It’s just a series of choices you make to determine how you want to connect with the rest of the world rather than just have the rest of the world come into your home through these various (on the grid) infrastructures,”

“When you live off grids, you suddenly become aware that the environment in which you live can provide you with some resources to meet your needs. You switch to an attitude of mindfulness. You’re suddenly aware, it’s a cloudy day, there’s not a bit of wind in the sky, you can’t turn on your dryer, you tell the kids, ‘Sorry, you can’t play video games today.” (because the alternative energy sources are underproducing)

The people he talks to are not “hippies in the desert,” he said.

“In Canada, it’s much different. Here, it requires a great investment into the (off-the-grid) systems that can allow you to survive,”

(But) “You don’t have to compromise lifestyle to live off grid.”

“The challenge is to become mindful of what you can do and what you cannot do.”

Off-gridders are united by their concern for the Earth’s future. But they’re also connected by the allure of self-sufficiency more common in the past, said Vannini.

What’s becoming really clear is the rest of us can learn or relearn a few basic skills about mindfulness towards the environment and basic self-sufficiency,”

“The surprising thing is that it’s actually quite enviable.”

He has a good grasp of it, I suppose.  Especially compared to others I have read.  But, like most academics, Professor Vanini has missed some of the most salient points.  But I am not on the panel that critiques his thesis so I’ll limit my observations to the main one.  Most people live off the grid as much because they don’t value the convenience of the mainstream grids nor do they want to pay all the prices that come with it enough to stay there.  Most of us are rejecting the main systems as much as embracing the alternative ones.

Professor Vanini makes a point of saying that we off-the-gridders are doing so well to have all the conveniences of the city dwellers while living a more minimalist and eco-aware existence.  That may be true to some extent but ‘having it all’ is not what we are trying to achieve.  In fact, NOT having it all but having just enough is more like the goal.  He fails to see the gross excess and the waste in the mainstream system and assumes that we – for all our protestations – want all the mod cons that he has.  We don’t.  And, for some that we do want, we are not willing to pay the increasingly exorbitant price that is required.

“You can’t play your video games today”.  (GOOD GRIEF!!)

The good professor doesn’t seem to fully get that with all the power in the world, most off-the-gridders wouldn’t have a video game in the house.  Their kids play in the great outdoors.  It is not about power, internet and mod cons.  It is not about having it all just like the city mouse.  It is 100% entirely about human and environmental values and how to achieve them.

1 thought on “Ivory Tower Myopia

  1. I searched “off grid” blogs to read. Looking for others who have retired to a quieter (no leaf blower) existance…. Many blogs were written by religious “preppers” talking about their guns…. not too relelvant to our life in the gulf islands..
    Then I found yours..
    Dinner topics with our neighbours also range between septic systems to books to tic removal…
    Your experiences are very similar to ours and it is fun to read your posts.

    We aren’t here to make a statement or save the world.. we just came to have some peace and quiet, watch the ocean from our window and putter in the garden while outsmarting the deer, raccoons and bunnies who want my carrots…
    (Truth be told if they get some.. props to them for getting past me.)

    We raised our kids in Ladner and had been coming to this island for 30 years. Now its full time and we leave rarely and with heavy hearts…We dont have very much, from a 4 bedroom 2800 sq foot hse to a 1 bedroom 1000 sq foot cabin…but we have everything we need !!! A view to die for and 2.5 acres privacy..

    Its a good life..
    keep writing.. I will be keep up….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.